Another year that has been the hottest on record, a fact starkly noted publicly by U.N. chief António Guterres at the opening of the 2023 COP climate summit. These annual events are an important way to focus minds, share ideas and galvanise renewed commitment to the urgent work yet to be done on climate change. Away from the high level discussions, it’s useful to consider how countries’ leadership and wider economies are responding at a day-to-day level. How does progress on decarbonisation and adaptation goals manifest outside of COP28?
What to prioritise, where to invest?
The need for urgent change is clear to all, yet understandably economic sectors are responding to climate threats in different ways. Some of the clients we help are already are all too aware of the climate effects on their business. Countries, cities and communities are impacted by climate hazards, such as extreme heat or flooding, that can suddenly inundate server rooms or overwhelm transport systems. Extreme heat has started to have impacts on real estate like hotels or office buildings. Every year, the threats proliferate and multiply.
Understandably a lot of the clients we talk to are focusing on immediate mitigations, working out how to react to protect their investments and operations, with decarbonisation a longer-term goal. Striking a balance in terms of what you invest in, and how you gain value from that in a commercially sound, highly planned manner, is now the priority.
There are multiple benefits to tackling both things at once. Many organisations are familiar with and understand some of the existing mitigations for climate impacts. They are aware how meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement will define their future operational environment. We have multiple available options to reduce our emissions such as greening our supply chains, switching transport to more sustainable options, and retrofitting our facilities – these are all appealing investments and ensure a business looks (and is) truly future-focused.
Data unlocks finance
Sustainable development means embracing science-based targets and understanding climate implications for a company’s operations, identifying their assets’ vulnerability to increasing climate risks. The financial landscape is being reshaped by new reporting requirements, primarily driven from Europe but impacting and influencing global organisations. But the issue is wider than that. Everyone is starting to ask, ‘how resilient will our current operation be in 5 or 10 years from now?’
Investment will be needed for climate resilience and adaptation efforts for governments and businesses alike. And we know that investors want bankable, scalable projects, where they can understand the promise, the outcome and the risks. Understanding how to navigate the issues involved is key to mobilising and redirecting public and private finance and making significant progress on resilience.
Data is always important in business, but reaching net zero and nature positive requires a whole new dimension of understanding. Identifying the whole life carbon emissions of your building or asset or service, is a complex but vital task. And that applies at the individual organisation level up to the city level. City planners need to understand how the commercial, residential and green areas of their municipalities are increasing or reducing emissions. At this year’s COP summit, the Global Stocktake, our 5-yearly checkpoint and global‘ ambition mechanism’ should help to shine a light on what’s working, what needs to accelerate and build confidence in which solutions should be recognised and emulated.
Industry has the ability to directly respond to policy signals and transform best practice that informs regulation. Arup’s own experience with both whole life carbon assessments and the push for circular economy building practices show that this is happening in pockets across the industry:
Policy change must be 'just'
As governments attempt to achieve net zero, everyone in society and the economy, should expect regulatory change. As incentives are rebalanced towards addressing climate change and to protecting nature, there are bound to be implications, new winners and losers as policy percolates through different areas like housing, transport, education etc. Whatever decisions are taken, the most vulnerable groups in our societies must be protected as they could be disproportionately affected by proposed change. A ‘just transition’ must be the foundation that will ensure this period of change retains public support and produces a sense of shared challenge, shared burden.
If we think back to some of the rapid deindustrialisation that took place in Western countries in the 1970s and 80s, we know what an ‘unjust transition’ looks like. Communities facing sudden change in their social and economic circumstances with no pathway to something new. The hope this time is that as governments and businesses acknowledge and respond to growing climate effects, they design resilience and adaptation plans that take account of the effect on the community as a whole.
Arup teams have been working on how to improve energy resilience in places like Lagos, Nigeria and Cape Town, South Africa. These are often vulnerable communities with limited access to energy services. The response, and the investment to address those issues must take account of the whole community’s stake in the outcome, if ongoing support for wider climate action is to be maintained given the other pressing priorities populations want to see funded.
Arup at COP28
Arup's experts will be participating at events throughout COP28 exploring topics including the energy transition, supporting the global south in developing more sustainable buildings and cities and technologies that can support climate change resilience and adaptation.
Climate and sustainability services
We help organisations to evaluate the specific climate and sustainability issues they are facing now and in the future. Our advice spans economic planning, environmental, energy and sustainability expertise, business strategy and regulatory compliance.